Embed from Getty Images
It’s no secret that Crystal Palace are going through an abysmal start to the 2017/18 Premier League season. The Eagles are yet to fully take flight after an inspiring victory against champions Chelsea gave false hope to all who thought the tides were turning in SE25. A devastating loss to Newcastle United brought Crystal Palace back down to Earth before being knocked out of the Carabao Cup in a 4-1 catastrophe by Championship side Bristol City. Clearly, the problems are still there for Palace, and if results don’t come soon the club could find themselves early relegation favorites…if they’re not already.
South London’s Flightless Birds
Throughout the first nine weeks of the season, the blame has been relatively widespread. Some say those off the pitch are at fault (Frank de Boer, Steve Parish and Roy Hodgson), while others believe some of the players must be dealt with (particularly Wayne Hennessey has been criticized). Should fans have seen this horrific start coming? In some ways, yes. What occurred in the summer could quite possibly have a lingering effect on the club.
A Rough Summer
After Big Sam Allardyce’s abrupt decision to leave the club, chairman Steve Parish was left panicking. The Eagles performed well under Big Sam avoiding relegation and defeating Chelsea and Liverpool along the way. Parish made it known that he wished Big Sam would stay on for next season, but the former West Ham manager wanted a break from football. Parish was then left making the decision of where he believed the club were going. A season without a relegation battle; that’s what both he and the board were prepared to strive for. So with a mid-table finish in mind, the club’s first ever international manager was appointed: Frank de Boer.
Taking the reigns on 26 June, de Boer had a little over a month to implement his style into the side. This is where things began to spiral downward. De Boer was trying to get mediocre Premier League players, some being merely Championship quality, to play Dutch Total Football. That possession based style of play is something that almost none of Crystal Palace’s players have ever experienced at the club. These are players used to a counter-attacking style so when they’re pressured playing the ball out of the back it’s very likely they will lose the ball. For some reason, de Boer and his higher ups did not understand this. They failed to take advantage of the transfer window to purchase players with the capability of playing how de Boer wanted.
At this point, you may be saying to yourself so what, why does this matter anymore; he’s gone and the club are still struggling. Firing any manager after just four matches will always have a lingering effect on the players and the club. Whether the timing was right or way too soon, de Boer did not have enough time to develop a possession-based mid-table, or higher, side from a counter-attacking bottom half club.
Like any other professional sports team would, Crystal Palace moved on with the hiring of former England manager Roy Hodgson. After being trained to play the Dutch way, the players had to forget all that and move on as well. Already struggling in the league and with a new manager trying to make his mark on the club, things weren’t getting any easier for them. To make matters even worse, the injury bug struck when the Eagles took on Manchester City. They would now be without Christian Benteke for over a month and, at the time, they still hadn’t scored a goal. That added even more strain to the players and Hodgson.
The pressure of not receiving a point yet in the season, was worsened by their goal-scoring difficulties. Zero goals and zero points had made Palace the laughingstock of the Premier League at the time. The players, simply put, felt that pressure every time they stepped out on the pitch for their next Premier League match. They didn’t have a single player really driving the side to realize that what was happening absolutely wasn’t good enough.
What Palace need is a leader. Someone on the pitch needs to step up and remind the side what they’re capable of. In the victory over Chelsea, Wilfried Zaha was that leader. He was easily the key factor and brought a passion out of the rest of the players that hadn’t been seen for much of the season. Unfortunately against Newcastle, that passion was again lost. A much changed side against Bristol City in the Carabao Cup inflicted even more damage on both players and fans’ emotions. Until Palace can find their identity again and strike fear in any club visiting Selhurst Park, they’ll continue to struggle for favorable results.
Regardless of where the club finds themselves in January, they will certainly be delving into the transfer window to sign some much needed reinforcements. Goals have proved hard to come by so a striker should be Palace’s top priority. It would also help the players and the club if they were to stick with Hodgson as long as logically possible.
The result against Chelsea will still give Crystal Palace hope that they are capable of getting big results in the league. Although they may not have looked it at times this season, they’ve proven that they are a Premier League side. They now have to come to terms with what will be a hard and grueling road out of the relegation zone and into the middle of the table. Saturday will be, arguably, the club’s most important match of the season so far. West Ham will visit Selhurst with many problems of their own. Both find themselves flirting with relegation at the moment and it will be a massive boost for whichever side can secure the three points. Palace must be up for it. The result will surely be telling of where their season is heading, and a defeat in this one would be an extremely hard pill to swallow.